A sermon preached for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost on Mark 7:24-37 and Isaiah 35:4-7a on September 9, 2018 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church (I'm posting this late because of the water bottle flood in my bag after I preached this!)
In this passage from Mark, there are many reasons why God cannot possibly be God—why the power of Jesus’s healing cannot and should not take place.
For starters, Jesus was tired and cranky—he needed to get away, and his rude banter with the Syro-Phoenician woman in Tyre is a sign of his humanity. Like us, his words became biting when his body and heart were exhausted—how can God’s healing happen when God’s son thinks its only for the Jews and everyone else are dogs? Moreover, this gentile woman of Greek culture and Syrian background is a historic enemy of Israel. No wonder their conversation is testy—her people have a history of oppressing Israel, so Jesus is well within his cultural norms in denying her request of healing for her daughter. God cannot possibly be God here. Besides that, Jesus shouldn’t even be talking with a woman who defies social custom and initiates a conversation with a man, and a foreigner at that. This conversation shouldn’t be happening at all, much less become the locus for God’s healing power.
In addition to all of this, she is also wealthy and can afford the best medicine that money can buy signified by the fact that her child has a bed—shouldn’t Jesus be healing those who can’t pay? Also, t arJesus and the disciples are so far north—far away from the center of Jesus’s saving work in Judea. They are in Gentile country—the land where people do not follow the monotheistic faith of the Jews. God cannot possibly be God in this place. And speaking of distance, another reason for God not to be God—is that the daughter isn’t even there with her mother—didn’t Jesus heal people by touching them, like he does with the man who is deaf and mute? Jesus hasn’t healed anyone from a distance thus far in Mark, so it doesn’t seem likely in this instance.
So you see, there are so many reasons in this situation why God could not possibly be God. I wonder how many reasons we have today for God not to be God for us?
• Perhaps we believe someone else is more deserving.
• Maybe we think our doubts and questions disqualify us from God showing up in our life with healing and love.
• Perhaps we think we should somehow muscle through our struggles on our own while God tends to those who really need help, who area really deserving, and really faithful.
• Maybe our reason that God cannot possibly show up and be God today is that we’re comfortable with a far-off God who watches us from a distance, but we have hard time with a “right-here, right now” God who knows our name, counts the number of hairs on our head and whose Spirit dwells within us.
• Perhaps God can’t be God because we don’t pray enough, or pray right, or we think we did or said some terrible, unforgivable sin and we deserve whatever suffering we’ve got.
• Maybe we’re too old, too young, too afraid, too-skeptical or too-whatever that shame-based-critic-in-your-head says to keep you in your place.
• Perhaps God can’t be God today because we are tired and cranky, and we think Jesus just wants us to go away.
• Maybe we’re just afraid, because no one has ever offered to lay hands on us and pray for our personal healing.
We could spend all day talking about all the reasons why God can’t possibly be God. But Jesus’s cranky encounter with an oppressive, wealthy, uppity, foreign mother tells us otherwise. Who knew a pushy broad like that could be the voice of God and break open the healing power of Jesus?
She doesn’t argue or disagree with Jesus—she just pushes his metaphor of dogs to its ultimate conclusion—even dogs get crumbs that fall from the table, and surely a crumb of God’s power is healing enough for one little girl. “Be opened,” she challenged Jesus.
In response to her insistence, Jesus opened up and gathered up all these reasons for why not God’s power today, and they dissipate into thin air with the words, “the demon has left your daughter.”
There’s no reason strong enough to prevent God’s power from showing up today and every day in our lives. There’s no sin, no exhaustion, no distance, no culture, no barrier, no creed, no class, no socioeconomic identity, no location in time and space, no geography, no feeling of unworthiness, no question, and no doubt that can prevent God from being God.
In Romans 8 the apostle Paul said it this way, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
God’s love comes near in Jesus to heal and repair, to lift up and mend, to embrace and bind-up, fulfilling the vision of Isaiah where the eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped and the lame leap like a deer.
Jesus was so transformed by this encounter in Tyre that he stayed in Gentile country in Sidon and the region of the Decapolis—or the 10 cities—not as an escape, but in order to expand the mission of God’s love and healing. This Syro-phoenician mother, desperate to heal her child, asked Jesus to “be opened” to move beyond human exhaustion and cultural barriers for healing—and he did. When he touched the man who was deaf and mute, Jesus took his new openness for his mission on the road. He touched him and said, “Ephphatha,” “be opened!--Be opened--release any barriers and let go of all reasons why God can’t possibly be God today!"
Now, Jesus looks at us and says, “be opened! Be opened to my love and healing power for today." Let go of all the reasons why not, and come forward in trust and hope that Jesus’ healing power is possible and present for you today—for whatever it is you need. You may need hope or courage; you may need physical healing, or emotional peace. You may need to mend a broken heart or be lifted from depression. You may need to make peace with what you can’t control or a new way to think about an old situation. Or you may just need to hear that’s God’s love for you is personal and real, and that nothing can separate you from God’s love no matter what.
Whatever you need, be opened! Ask Jesus for the healing you need from him today!